Workflow vs. Process: How to Streamline Business Operations

Suzanna Daniel
October 25, 2022
min read
March 15, 2024
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Learn the difference between workflow vs. process and how they work together to optimize productivity. Streamline your business operations with our free templates for workflows and processes.
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Coordinating and organizing daily team activities is one of the most effective ways to keep your team productive and get maximum results for every input.

Better processes = better workflows and more consistent outcomes.

When it comes to workflow vs. process, what's the difference? Which one should you use? Where do you start?

In this article, we'll discuss the difference between workflow and process in more detail and give tips for creating efficient workflows and processes that will help your team work smarter, not harder.

So let's get right into it!

TL;DR: Workflow vs. process

  • Processes and workflows are closely related but have distinct differences. Processes refer to high-level sets of tasks aimed at achieving organizational goals. Workflows focus on efficiently completing these tasks. Think of it as a parent/child relationship.
  • Workflows are the overall structure of how work is done, while processes are specific step-by-step activities.
  • Workflows provide the big-picture view, while processes focus on the details.
  • Workflows and processes work together, ensuring efficiency and improving operations.
  • Creating workflows and processes at the same time allows you to establish an overarching framework (process) while simultaneously defining the interconnected flow of tasks and activities (workflows) within that framework.

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What is a workflow?

Scribe's Workflow Template

Workflows are the overall structure of how your team gets work done. Workflows help create a sequence of tasks that must be completed to achieve a goal. They are also the technologies or tools that allow for data, information, documents, and tasks to flow through an organization.

Workflow is responsible for how everyone shows up to work daily, how they approach their task as a group or individually, and the sequence of activities.‎

What is a process?

Processes are specific step-by-step plans for completing a series of tasks. Processes help your team define what needs to be done, who will do it, and when it needs to be done. 

Business processes can be broadly categorized into three main types:

  • Operational processes directly create value for customers and generate revenue for the business (e.g., marketing, sales, production, customer service).
  • Supporting processes enable primary processes to be carried out (e.g., accounting, procurement processes, human resources, IT).
  • Management processes involve planning, measuring, monitoring, and controlling primary and supporting processes (e.g., strategic planning, performance management, risk management).‎

💡 ‎Check out our list of the top business process management software.

Workflow vs. process: what's the difference?

Understanding the difference between workflow and process is essential for any organization looking to increase productivity. We'll break down the key differences between them.

A workflow is a series of steps that must be completed in a specific order to achieve a specific goal. A process, on the other hand, is a set of activities that are necessary to achieve a specific objective or goal.

In simple terms, we can say workflows help you with the big-picture view of a goal, while processes help you get down the details of achieving a goal.

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Workflow vs. process examples

If you run a business or lead a team, there's a high chance you have at least one to five workflows and numerous processes in place, depending on the scale and size of your organization.

What is an example of a workflow?

Let's look at common workflow examples. 

If you're approving a new employee, the workflow might include receiving an application, getting final approval from a department head, and then sending an offer letter.

Here's a more detailed, step-by-step example of a workflow:

Workflow for approving a purchase order:

  1. Create a purchase order.
  2. Submit the purchase order to the appropriate approvers.
  3. Get expense approvals from all approvers.
  4. Send the purchase order to the vendor.
  5. Receive the goods or services from the vendor.
  6. Pay the vendor.

The workflow is a clearly defined set of steps that need to be taken to approve a purchase order.

‍Some other common workflow examples include:

What is an example of a process?

Let's look at some common process examples. 

If you're hiring a new employee, the process might include identifying a need, creating a job description, advertising the position, interviewing candidates, and making an offer.

Here's a more detailed, step-by-step example of a process for orders:

Process for order fulfillment:

  1. Receive an order from a customer.
  2. Verify the order information.
  3. Pick the items from the warehouse.
  4. Pack the items.
  5. Ship the items to the customer.
  6. Invoice the customer.

The process is more complex than the workflow for approving a purchase order. The process defines the sequence of simple steps to fulfill orders accurately and efficiently.

When to use a workflow vs. process

Generally speaking, you'll want to use a workflow when you need to manage or automate a series of tasks that need to be completed in a specific order, as workflows give your team direction and guidance to get a specific outcome or result.

A process will give you a more holistic view of how to achieve a goal and help you identify the systematic tasks, sequence of repetitive activities and relationships.

  • Use a workflow when you need to define the specific steps that need to be taken to achieve a specific goal. Common workflows are approving a purchase order, new employee onboarding, inspection workflows for QA, or completing a service request.
  • Use a process when you need to define the overall activities that are necessary to achieve a specific objective or goal. You might use a process to define the steps involved in order fulfillment, customer service, product development, or marketing and sales.

Many organizations use both processes and workflows, starting with a well-defined process and then creating workflows for specific tasks or projects within that process.

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Is it better to start with a workflow or a process?

In many cases, it's beneficial to start with a process and then break it down into workflows as needed. But in some cases, like when the specific tasks and activities are well-defined or when immediate results are needed, you'll want to start with an established workflow.

Here are some considerations to help you decide:

When to start with a process:

  1. Complexity: Starting with a process helps in dealing with complex and multi-faceted business operations or projects.
  2. Holistic view: Starting with a process encourages you to take a top-level view of the work, focusing on the big picture, goals, and the interactions between various components. This is especially important when you need to align work with strategic objectives.
  3. Compliance and governance: Defining the process first can help ensure compliance, regulatory and governance standards are met.
  4. Long-term planning: A well-defined process provides a foundation for long-term planning and resource allocation.
  5. Stability: Processes are more stable and resistant to frequent changes, leading to consistency in operations.

When to start with a workflow:

  1. Specific tasks: If you have a clear understanding of specific tasks or activities, starting with a workflow can be more efficient. Workflows break down a process into manageable steps.
  2. Immediate goals: Workflows are practical for addressing immediate, short-term goals or projects without getting bogged down in a larger process.
  3. Incremental improvement: Workflows can be easily modified and improved upon over time, making them great for iterative and agile approaches.
  4. Quick implementation: Workflows are typically quicker to implement, and they can yield immediate results, making them suitable for rapidly changing environments.

Many organizations start with a well-defined process that outlines the overall framework, objectives and rules, and then create workflows for specific tasks or projects within that process.

How to create workflows & processes

Workflows and processes pretty much serve the same goal—to help an organization complete the activities that keep it profitable. Follow these steps to make sure your workflows and processes are smooth and efficient.

Step 1. Identify your goals or objectives

What do you want to achieve with your workflow or process? Once you know your organizational goals, you can start to identify the steps that need to be taken to achieve them.

2. Determine the scope

What aspects of the work will be covered by the process, and which will be addressed by workflows? Establish a high-level structure for your workflow and process.

3. Start with a high-level process

Develop a top-level process that outlines the overall framework and major milestones. What needs to be done to achieve your goal? This process should provide a structured approach to achieving the objectives but doesn't need to detail all tasks.

4. Sequence the tasks and activities

Use Scribe to generate workflow and process documentation - workflow vs process

What order do you need to complete a task? What are the dependencies and relationships between tasks? Create a flow chart or diagram to visualize the specific sequence of steps, or use AI-powered process documentation tools like Scribe to automate the process and save hours of manual work. ‎

Scribe is the fastest, easiest and most effective way to build multi-step processes. By capturing your browser or desktop workflow, Scribe automatically creates visual, step-by-step guides that simplify complex tasks with text and annotated screenshots.

Ask Scribe's generative AI to build your process document for you, or start with one of our free, customizable templates:

5. Break down into workflows

Within the high-level process, identify the critical stages or phases. For each stage or phase, create a workflow that breaks down the specific tasks, activities, and dependencies necessary to achieve the milestones. The flow of tasks should be clearly defined and have specific outcomes.

6. Assign roles and responsibilities

Who is responsible for each task or activity? Assign roles and responsibilities to ensure that everyone knows what they need to do.

7. Define the requirements and outcomes

Define what resources, information or requirements are required to start and complete each task or activity in the workflow. Then outline the results, deliverables or outcomes when a task is successfully completed.

8. Create workflow documentation

Once you understand your workflows, it's time to start documenting them. Use Scribe's free, customizable Workflow Template to document each workflow with instructions, guidelines and procedures your team needs to accomplish the tasks.

‎9. Integrate your workflows with the high-level process 

Make sure the workflows are aligned with and contribute to your high-level process. This document should include the steps, systematic tasks, activities, roles, and responsibilities. They should serve as building blocks that collectively lead to achieving your objectives.

‎Use Scribe Pages to combine multiple Scribes with videos, images and more to create comprehensive documentation.

10. Test and refine

Once you've documented your workflow, test it out to check that it works as intended. Make sure the workflows function smoothly and align with your process goals. Based on your results, you can make any necessary adjustments.

You can streamline your updates by using Scribe's editing features to quickly change titles, add descriptions, change icons, edit or add new steps, use the bulk step editor and more.

11. Implement the workflow & process

Once you have a well-defined workflow and high-level process, share it with your team members. Provide training and support so that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities.

Scribe makes it easy to share workflows and processes with your team:‎

  • Send a quick link.
  • Export your guide into formats like PDF, HTML and Markdown.
  • Share the link via your Scribe workspace.
  • Add users to your Scribe workspace.
  • Using the Smart Embed feature for seamless integration with other platforms.

Scribe also integrates with your favorite work tools and software to create documentation.

12. Monitor and optimize

Once the workflows and processes are in use, regularly monitor their performance and ask for feedback. Scribe’s built-in feedback features enable teams to comment and react to your Scribes, ensuring you never miss any critical feedback.

Make continuous improvements to streamline processes and enhance overall efficiency.

13. Keep your documentation up-to-date

Regularly review and update your workflow and process documentation as changes are made to the workflows or the overarching process.

When you create workflow and process docs with Scribe, all of your changes are universal updates. You'll always have the best version regardless of where you share your guide. 

Best practices for workflows & processes

Improving and optimizing workflows can save time, reduce costs and enhance productivity. Here are eight best practices to follow:

  1. Use process mapping and map out current workflows to visually identify all the steps involved.
  2. Explore workflow automation software to streamline repetitive tasks and time-consuming processes.
  3. Define clear guidelines and procedures for each step of the workflow and process, ensuring that everyone involved understands their roles and responsibilities.
  4. Use collaboration tools to connect employees, streamline communication, and ensure everyone is on the same page.
  5. Encourage feedback from employees involved in the workflow and regularly review and analyze the data to identify areas where you can improve efficiency.
  6. Identify and eliminate bottlenecks, taking steps to streamline tasks and boost productivity.
  7. Set key performance indicators (KPIs) to track progress, identify areas of improvement, and make data-driven decisions.
  8. Provide your employees with the necessary skills and knowledge to adapt to new processes and technologies.


What is your workflow and process?

Understanding the distinction between workflow and process is crucial for effective project management and streamlining operations.

Workflow refers to a series of steps or tasks needed to achieve a goal.

  • A workflow is a subset of a process, focusing on task sequence.
  • It outlines the activities and responsible individuals or departments.
  • A workflow can be visualized as a flowchart or diagram.

A process is a broader term that includes the workflow.

  • It encompasses the strategies, policies, and guidelines for task execution.
  • A process defines the overall approach and methodology for achieving an outcome.

What is the difference between workflow and process diagram?

While both workflow and process diagrams are visual representations of a series of steps or tasks, the main difference lies in their focus and level of detail.

Workflow diagrams focus on the flow of work and the relationships between tasks.

  • A workflow diagram is a visual representation of steps or tasks needed to achieve a goal.
  • It focuses on the flow of work and relationships between tasks.
  • Workflow diagrams are used to analyze and improve processes.

Process diagrams provide a more detailed overview of the inputs, outputs and actions involved in each step of the process.

  • A process diagram is a visual representation of a sequence of activities needed to complete a process or procedure.
  • It provides an overview of inputs, outputs, and actions in each step.
  • Process diagrams are used to document and communicate complex processes.

What is the difference between a workflow model and a process model?

A workflow model and a process model are both used to represent and analyze business processes, but they have some key differences.

A workflow model focuses on the flow of activities and information:

  • A workflow model focuses on the sequence of activities and flow of information/materials.
  • It provides a visual representation of steps in completing a task or achieving an outcome.
  • Used to identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and opportunities for improvement.

A process model provides a more detailed and comprehensive representation of a business process, including roles, rules, and resources involved.

  • A process model is a more comprehensive representation of a business process.
  • It includes a sequence of activities, roles/responsibilities, rules/policies, and resources.
  • Provides a holistic view of the entire process.
  • Used for process documentation, analysis and optimization.

In conclusion: workflow vs. process

Excellent organizational workflows and processes are essential to running a successful business. While there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to implementing workflow vs. process, the key is to find what works best for you and your team.

Creating and implementing a process flow and workflows for your team can be difficult and time-consuming—that's where Scribe can save you time and money, and help you achieve your organizational goals. Sign up for Scribe today to get started!

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